Thursday, October 6, 2005

“You Are Not Free to Move About the Country”

Southwest Airlines needs to learn a lot more about freedom of expression, not to mention public relations.

Southwest Airlines kicked a woman off one of its flights over a political message on her T-shirt, the airline confirmed Thursday, and published reports say the passenger will sue.

Lorrie Heasley, of Woodland, Wash., was asked to leave her flight from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., Tuesday for wearing a T-shirt with pictures of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a phrase similar to the popular film title “Meet the Fockers.”

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines told CNN that the airline used the “common sense” approach when they decided to escort Heasley from the plane in Reno, Nevada, during a stopover between Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.

The airline felt that the T-shirt was offensive and that other passengers would be outraged by it, the spokeswoman said, adding that the incident is about “decency.”

“I have cousins in Iraq and other relatives going to war,” Heasley told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “Here we are trying to free another country and I have to get off an airplane in midflight over a T-shirt. That’s not freedom.”

According to the airline spokeswoman, Heasley was asked to leave after she refused to cover up her T-shirt, an account that conflicts with Heasley’s version in the Gazette-Journal.

Heasley told the newspaper that she agreed to cover her shirt with a sweatshirt, but it slipped as she slept. After she was ordered to wear her T-shirt inside-out or leave, she and her husband chose to leave, the paper said.

I’ve never flown on Southwest Airlines — they don’t fly to Miami — but a friend of mine who does says that yes, they’re inexpensive but it’s like flying on an old Trailways bus and the ticket agents refer to the passengers as “self-loading cargo.” Now here’s another reason to avoid them; they’re probably going to make their planes fly with only the right wing.